Tag Archives: Internet

On Being a Millennial Turning 30

I have written two full length books and 160 articles for this website but I walk dogs for a living. Part of this was leaving college in the wake of the financial crash, part of this was refusing to water down my politics to suit an increasingly regressive employment culture, part of this was journalistic institutions shunning my job applications when I got out of college due to my heavy involvement in Occupy Wall Street.

I wish it paid more, but I’m pretty happy walking dogs. The dogs themselves are great, I get exercise, I get to be outside, and it gives me a lot of flexibility in my schedule. It doesn’t really leave me with much of an economic future, but few things in this economy do, and most of them are more greedy for your time.

And it was a pretty cozy arrangement for a couple years. But like most other things in my life, the repeated terrible decisions humanity has made since the dawn of the 20th century, particularly brute forcing society to revolve around personal automobiles and the advent of the internet surveillance economy, have fucked it up.

The heat wave this summer has been so bad that when I get to the dogs, as often as not they literally do not want to go outside. They get out quickly, do their business, then look up as if to say “What else do you want from me?” Sometimes the sidewalk is so hot they rightly refuse to step on it and tug the leash as if they were telling me to check my shoe privilege.

Sometimes it has been so hot that I don’t feel right even taking them outside for the full time I’m contracted for and I’ve had to get creative, walking them around the hallways of their apartment complexes or mapping out what sidewalks will be shaded at what time of day in my head.

If you’ve ever owned or met a dog, you know that pretty much every dog always wants to go outside all the time. But that’s the reality of climate change. Everything has its limits.

People frequently ask me if I work for Wag, a rent-seeking, parasitic “platform” company that most people seem to trust despite the fact that literally all they do is siphon money from professional dog walkers and leave your pets with people they have not really vetted at all. I hear horror stories about Wag walkers not actually showing up, sleeping in peoples’ homes when they’re not there, or hitting the animals.

Yet people are hooked on platform companies like they were heroin. And that addiction has worked out to economic warfare against my generation.

The generation that gave birth to most of the Millennials, the Baby Boomers, have turned out to be the most selfish generation in human history. They value their own comfort and convenience over the lives and futures of their children. They ignored climate change until…until shit. They’re still ignoring it.

“Tune out, turn off, fuck you I got mine” seems to be the refrain going through their heads. They run around gleefully shitting on everything, reveling in the fact they may well be the last generation that gets to die restfully on their own terms.

I want to be a positive and inspiring voice, but I don’t see much in the future to be optimistic about. US infrastructure is still crumbling. Every year the drinking water becomes less safe to drink, the outdoors become less hospitable to walk in, the people I meet seem to have retreated into the cocoon of their phones and endless window shopping. Everyone (or at least everyone I’m around) sees their standard of living rapidly decreasing to subsistence level. Kids get eviscerated by automatic weapons in schools on a daily basis and all the 1% see are more dollar signs. Should I expect anything different? The same 1% are lining up to push us into World War III, Holocaust II, and complete environmental collapse like they were rides at an amusement park.

As they always have, the 1% get off almost sexually on our suffering in and of itself, perhaps even more than they get off on profiting from it.

Like Ted Bundy, the ability to inflict pain makes them feel powerful and secure.

Perhaps at least this time they will be cooked alive with us. Such are the small consolations that run through the Millennial and Gen Z mind.

And beyond the environmental collapse, there has been a collapse of the social infrastructure as well. People used to connect socially by entertaining each other, but who has the energy for that when “entertainment” surrounds them in a claustrophobic cycle of emotional manipulation? Why would anyone spend the time and effort to know someone when they’ve been conditioned to know there will always be something shinier around the corner when they swipe right?

The greatest social effect of the cell phone has been to privilege communications of those people who are nowhere near us over those close to us, as if every text message were a dire emergency. And we’ve rolled over and accepted this as the new normal. We purposely distance ourselves from others so we can become complicit in exploiting them despite the fact they are us. Exploitative internet apps like Uber give us little tastes of what it feels like to be the one doing the exploiting in drips and drabs and it turned out that was enough to buy us off. We haven’t forgotten the children in cages at the border, we have ghosted them.

The timidity of those who favored self advancement and personal comfort over supporting those of us who have chosen to fight will be remembered harshly by history, presuming anyone’s still there to write it.

Yet I have great hope for Gen Z. They have grown up with no illusions about the dire situation we face. They have no choice but to struggle.

My resolution for my 30s is to throw in my lot with them.

An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi

Dear Nancy,

You keep saying now isn’t the time to impeach for reasons that apparently us mere mortals are too simple to understand. Or maybe you’re just bluffing because you don’t actually want to do anything.

It can’t be because you’re busy working on some other agenda because all the Democratic party seems to have done since we, the US population, overwhelmingly voted your party into a Congressional majority, is pick fights with the president* over his tweets and capitulate to unreasonable demands from the fascist insurgency currently destroying the United States. You act like somehow you can get elected to Congress but can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, as if the only things you could possibly do are pass an impeachment resolution or put out tepid press releases, but only one at a time.

The fascists don’t act like that. The fascists push their agenda aggressively from all directions because even though its wrong and will probably destroy the climate sustaining human life, they want it badly enough. You don’t seem to want anything besides to hold onto the idea you’re the big shot in the room who has everything under control. Despite your weak track record as a legislator, we begrudgingly let you become House Speaker again due to your seniority or the fact we don’t get to vote on the House Speaker, mostly the latter.

I get it. You’re old and will probably die soon. Climate change doesn’t seem that important to you. “By the time the fascist insurgency gets reaaaaally bad,” you think, “I’ll probably be dead.” Does this seem cruel? Prove me wrong.

People don’t really trust or like you because you have not used your pulpit to push back against the evils surrounding us. People don’t really trust or like you because you went after the Speakership position like a dog chasing a car. Now that you have it, you just look confused. I repeat, there are fascists in high places and concentration camps on the border and many other places. If you don’t want to fight for us, get the fuck out of the way and let someone who wants to actually fight for us take over. Your “centrism” ego trip is going to kill a lot of innocent people.

You claim to have no power so its not worth pursuing anything much less impeachment, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who theoretically has less power than you do, has been out in the fray, fighting back and getting her message to the American people. She has had great success in doing so. You haven’t. You seem to feel like the right thing to do when you’re being pelted by the enemy is to go down with your ship. The rest of us are on that ship, and fucking hell if we’re going to let you take us all with you so you can feel like a big powerful lady.

Do you understand messaging at all?? When president racist grandpa acted like president racist grandpa over the weekend, Democratic house members, including yourself, lined up to live up to being the ineffectual boogeymen the GOP base has been trained to think you are. Don’t be fooled-the GOP base wants excuses and validation for their reactionary racism. They want to be united against an enemy and are willing to make that enemy out of anyone who threatens their getting their jollies by being an angry racist mob. You play into this constantly, thinking you’re being clever and savvy.

President racist grandpa snaps his fingers and you act outraged and bring up other members of congress to go up and act outraged. Anyone who’s been half-awake during this illegitimate administration knows that president racist grandpa put the “go back where you came from” tweet out to distract from the fact he has extensive ties to a guy who just got arrested for smuggling and raping children. You have the power to call the press to attention. You used that power to just repeat what president racist grandpa said in the negative, further amplifying his racism. A more savvy and/or competent politician would’ve called the press out to mention that, then pivoted to repeating the message over and over that the president* HAS EXTENSIVE PERSONAL TIES TO A GUY WHO GROOMED AND RAPED CHILDREN FOR A LIVING.

This has a better chance of dividing the GOP base. Anyone thinking the GOP base has any shame about their being racist has not paid one lick of attention to anything going on for the last 4 years. They love being racists. They love to hate. But they don’t want to be associated with A GUY WHO RAPED/FACILITATED OTHER PEOPLE RAPING CHILDREN FOR A LIVING any more than anyone would want to be, outside of the president*, who sure seemed to be having a great time being friends with A GUY WHO RAPED/FACILITATED OTHER PEOPLE RAPING CHILDREN FOR A LIVING, especially while riding the “Lolita Express”.

If you cannot win a messaging battle with a guy who has extensively documented ties to another guy who RAPED/FACILITATED OTHER PEOPLE RAPING CHILDREN FOR A LIVING, then why are you still in your position? I’ve been fired from far less important positions for far more minor derelictions of duty, yet you, Nancy Pelosi, feel you’re the only person in the room who can lead the party. This is despite the fact that in your time as a legislator and periodic House Speaker, the US has done nothing but lurch toward oligarchic fascism. The far right somehow loses voters while consolidating more and more power. This is because you and your centrist colleagues have been asleep at the wheel.

There have been many op-eds saying things to the effect of “Don’t discount Nancy Pelosi, she’s secretly super smart, she’s playing 4 dimensional chess.” But somehow, you’re continually being outsmarted by a guy who seemingly can’t even spell his own name. I’m calling bullshit.

We know you’re a creature of habit. We know you’re not going to change. So please get out of the way so the rest of us, the us who are going to have to live in this country ten years from now when you’re dead or retired, can have some fighting chance. Let somebody else do this job. You clearly don’t feel like actually doing it anymore, if you ever did.

Sincerely,

Me and the Tens of Millions of Other People Who Are Thinking This Right Now

Donald Trump is the Thing After Post-Modernism

What is to be made of the current collection of vernacular/folk “types” of people that frame the writing of the US cultural narrative? The “hipster”, the “troll”, the “social justice warrior”, the “alt-righter”, the “young professional”? Where do the archetypes come from? How do they drive the country’s current momentum toward postmodern authoritarianism?

Nearly all coverage of the hipster, despite never being able to confidently pin down just what the hipster is, has concurred that there is something sinister about the trend. What is the cultural undercurrent, the geist these critics were chasing?

A theory: What has made society so uncomfortable with the emergence of the so-called “hipster” is the predominant tone of irony; of insincerity; of a put on that is frequently described as “having nothing behind it”-but if the insincerity has nothing behind it, doesn’t it become its own truth? Isn’t a copy with no original simply a mislabeled original? And so shouldn’t the ironic eventually loop around into its own unironic self-appreciation? Or at least attempt to?

The “hipster” and the radicalization of conservatives developed along parallel tracks in response to the post-modern restructuring of society that followed the end of the post-war economic boom in the early-mid 1970s. When Robert Ashley dramatized the arrival of post-modernism in Perfect Lives as a story of people who rob a bank then bring the money back before anyone notices as various townies state their unease at a sinking feeling the money wasn’t there for some short time, was he consciously trying to invoke the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system? Was there a more post-modern event in the 20th century than the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system? Think about it-the signifier and signified, gold and cash, both functionally symbols despite the perceived “tangibility” of gold, legally divorced in a giant ceremony.

Despite the fact that gold is a placeholder for commodities and doesn’t offer much practical value besides as a conductor or tooth filling, the divorce troubled many. The money was there, but it wasn’t. Sort of. The success of Bitcoin among gold bugs despite its being even less traditionally tangible than cash speaks to the extent the appeal of gold was rooted in its being a symbol of limit and exclusivity. The symbol trauma of the end of the gold standard (one of many such traumas) has been one of the far right’s obsessions for decades now. Ayn Rand’s “A=A” satisfies both the conservative’s desire for a perception of solid reality and Baudrillard’s definition of hyperreality-the symbol (the written letter “A”) correlates to the symbol (the written letter “A”)-a closed loop of symbols.

If modernism was about insisting there’s an underlying particular meaning that can be codified, and post-modernism was about the dissolution/impossibility of meaning and the arbitrary quality of codes, then the thing after post-modernism is perhaps best dubbed Frankenstein Modernism-the attempt to reconstruct the comfort of fixed meaning from an environment that can’t allow for the comfort of a fixed meaning.

In an always-already doomed effort, the conservative ironically attempts to preserve the sanctity of “the real” by clutching desperately to the crudely symbolic-the flag, race, etc. Any conservative ideology must construct a sanctified past because its attempts to “conserve” the current status quo will always be undermined by the fact time goes forward and things change, up to and including the interpretation of the past-this dissonance has to be accounted for. Explanations and scapegoats are needed to maintain the conservative’s superficial sense of control over their surroundings.

In the conservative imagination this looks like the return to “sanity”, to the more comfortable prior status quo.  To the non-conservative, it looks like a strange and garish pastiche; the Hollywood reboot except real-even the players themselves seem to be operating, consciously or otherwise, on this logic-what else is to be made of the endless attempts by Trump and May to portray themselves as the return of Reagan and Thatcher?

What does this mean? The age of the remake is total; the age of high fidelity recorded media which has barely gone on for more than 150 years has swallowed society whole-there is no hope for a new thing or else why would there be such bitter and violent squabbles over the aesthetics of remakes, all the way from the Twitter harassment of Leslie Jones up through the selling of Donald Trump as fat Reagan.

 

 

Radio Without Money Episode 5: Brevity Is the Soul of Wit

brevity is the soul of wit

In this exceptionally brief (for us!) episode of Radio Without Money, the official WritersWithoutMoney.com podcast, Ross Snider and Aloysius VI try to put lipstick on a pig by discussing Daniel Levine’s disappearance, user analytics, the budget, Wikipedia, propaganda, Facebook’s new fact-check alerts and the conflation of “neutrality” with “objectivity,” journalism in general, the aborted Republican health care legislation, and the conflation of neoliberalism with traditional, progressive liberalism.

Podcast recorded Thursday, March 23rd through Friday, March 24th, 2017.

<-Check out the last episode!

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Mediocrity, Propaganda and Trump

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THE INTERNET IS ITS OWN ECONOMIC SYSTEM AND IDEOLOGY

History seems to move faster at certain times than others. Now is one of those times.

Karl Marx, thinking about industrialization, claimed that a newly emergent economic force/system was actually revolutionary in the sense that it reshaped all the territory and politics it touched. 100 years later, Marshall McLuhan claimed similar powers for the emergence of technology. The internet differs from prior economic revolutions in that it seeks to reshape the current geographic layout of man in order to completely replace it. It literally recreates itself by writing itself on the landscape-anyone who’s ever used Snapchat or even Pokemon Go could tell you as much. The internet, at this point being both a new technological and new political formation, presents a two-front war with all of us unfortunately trapped in the middle.

RADICALIZATION IS A FEATURE, NOT A BUG

A library science professor I had in college assigned an academic paper whose author and title I forget. It dealt with the “bridging” vs. “bonding” elements in how internet communities were shaped. A “bonding” community was one that tended to increase homogeneity and insularity-it brought together people with a specific set of interests/demographics and isolated them from the outside world over time. A “bridging” community brought people together across demographics/interests. Internet communities were found to be almost exclusively “bonding”, while groups organizing on the physical proximity of persons were shown to fall more evenly across a bridge/bond spectrum.

The alt-righter thinks by himself: “If I feel wronged about anything, no matter how stupid or  illegitimate, I’m sure I can find people willing to indulge or enable me, and the more wronged and isolated I feel about the thing, the more time I’m willing to spend on the internet with these people enabling me. Because these people are now my real friends, they hold disproportionate social influence over me and my initial attraction to them doesn’t suggest strong independent thinking skills to begin with.”

The vernacular of internet discourse has centered around increasingly shocking content and progressive desensitization to extreme materials for nearly as long as the internet has existed. This is how the neo-Nazis and ISIS both recruit. This is how Gamergate happened. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The thing after neoliberalism is shaping up to be equal parts dialectics and The Producers-the far right parties have realized the worse they govern, the more terrorism they allow to happen, the more they’re rewarded under the current system.

THE SHIFT IN PROPAGANDA:

1)

It’s very important to remember there is always an external and an internal propaganda system. The external propaganda system legitimizes the group/regime to those outside. The internal propaganda system legitimizes and normalizes the group/regime to its members. These two systems often seem to work at cross-purposes and most propaganda doesn’t make its intended audience entirely obvious, especially to its intended audience. Why would it? Things always seem much more enticing when you’re not the person who’s supposed to be seeing them.

2)

Let’s use the Nazis and particularly Nazi cinema to illustrate this point.

Internal propaganda systems: The Nazis were the first modern political party to use street graffiti and a large part of how the rural population was sold on Hitler was through traveling screenings of short news reels. In many of these rural German communities, access to movies of any sort was rare. These newsreel films looked partly like ones that would be shown in US theaters at the time between cartoons and features. However, the repeated visual symbols were mostly morphed copies of ones in the classic USSR silent films. Further cases of internal propaganda include the numerous lesser known Nazi features. Films like Hans Westmar, a fictionalized version of a false story of Nazi “martyr” Horst Wessel, or Jud Suss, Der Rothschilds: Aktien Auf Waterloo, etc., were sold as entertaining historical melodramas. Hans Westmar in particular broadly resembles recent sentimentalized “martyr” films like American Sniper.

External propaganda: Hitler attempted to normalize and bring prestige to his movement/country abroad the same way many state governments do-by making fancy movies and sending them abroad to festivals. These include Triumph of the Will and Olympia. While both were screened in Germany, their intended audience was abroad. The continuing public perceptions that the Nazi government was meticulously well organized (they weren’t, many high up officials including Hitler were on meth for extended periods) or that Triumph of the Will was what sold the Germans on Hitler speak to the enduring power of this strategy.

3)

How does the internet change things?

Per Ernest Becker (by way of Otto Rank) : Man needs to be able to feel as though he is the hero of the narrative of his life.

Per Ray Kroc: Why wait 15 minutes when I can have it now?

Per Neil Postman: If you don’t think the medium of communications biases what can be communicated, try translating Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” into smoke signals.

Per Twitter: 140 characters or less.

Per Marshall McLuhan: The content of the new medium is always the medium it’s replacing.

Trump’s rise is inconceivable without the internet. Memes are graffitti/propaganda writ large and reduced to their simplest form. TV and cartoons were more effective than any propaganda medium prior because of their immediacy; looking at a comic strip or single panel lacking words, by the time you think “do I want to read this?” you’ve likely already read it. A meme is even more immediate-it lives or dies on the extent to which we can already predict what it’s going to say. At the same time, it creates a fake sense of community built around knowing who “Scumbag Steve” or “Bad Luck Brian” is. The sense of inclusion is created by removing all communal standards beyond the basic self-referential acknowledgement the “community” exists. It allows a sense of familiarity to push out critical judgement.

I got some shit for writing about Elliott Roger’s “manifesto” more than a year ago, but in retrospect, it seems to pretty accurately reflect what can be understood about the psychology of Trump voters-how many people in this country based their self-esteem and sense of specialness on how many Pokemon cards they had? How good they were at video games? The very fact that video games seemed to offer a clearly delineated meritocracy, however meaningless? How horrible was it when they saw on the internet there would always be someone with more Pokemon cards or a higher score; who made the commonplace banality of their struggles obvious; who pierced through any notion they were special? The internet of course also had little tribes and klans collecting these fresh malcontents; sometimes they were already assembled and simply soured when they felt angry enough on realizing however ironically they were not the special snowflakes they accused everyone else of idealizing themselves as; they were just waiting to be scooped up on bodybuilding forums and other pits of the internet.

And as with toxic narcissism in all its forms, the playground taunt “I know you are but what am I?” isn’t just the mature response but the necessary one. Much has been made of the fact that the districts most reliant on subsidized health care and welfare programs overwhelmingly voted for a man promising to eradicate these programs they depend on. Much of this discourse has unfortunately taken the closed discourse of self-satisfied liberalism-“What idiots!”-instead of investigation into the mechanics of self-loathing.

4) 

How do the internal and external propaganda systems of the US work?

Internal Propaganda Systems: These consist largely of the tendency that people are reaching at when they refer to “the mainstream media”. All the major news sources, particularly those on television, work first to legitimize the current political system by overemphasis on chaos and terror, by reporting on everything from tornadoes to mass shootings to the “inherent scariness” of non-mainstream ideologies. Their first priority is to legitimize the current system in whatever form it takes, both forwards and backwards in history. This is why all the reporting when Reagan died, even from ostensibly liberal outlets like NPR, was focused on his “great statesmanship” blahblahblah, while never mentioning Iran-Contra or his exacerbation of the drug or AIDS crises. Their second priority is partisan. MSNBC is already broadcasting stuff about how “presidential” Trump looked on Tuesday night because he…took advantage of the widow of a Navy Seal he sent to die for literally no reason for a photo op. Without the prestige of the government, the banal careerism of the many reporters employed by these institutions collapses. A popular war helps the media as much as it helps the president. The internal propaganda system also places a heavy emphasis on popular media-everything from the boring politically empty celebration of civics in something like Parks and Recreation through to the superheroes-as-Blackwater Wagner-lite of the Avengers/Iron Man movies to the sleight of hand use of martyrdom to cover a broken ideology in films like American Sniper to the use of hundreds of drones during the Super Bowl to normalize their use all feed into this larger ecosystem.

External Propaganda Systems: These would involve a much larger article. Ross Snider has written about them pretty extensively on this website. Overthrowing elections, exported versions of the propaganda vehicles mentioned above, etc etc etc.

5)

How do we innoculate ourselves and rebuild media into something humane that serves society?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it….

Radio Without Money Episode 3: More Jokes About Buildings and Food

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Another week, another podcast! Discussion of a whole bunch of stuff. Next episode we’re going to start having more focused discussion, but this week join Aloysius VI and I for a lot of politics and jokes. Great to put on when you’re cleaning your own house or congress!

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Radio Without Money Episode 2: The Fall of Anonymous

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In this episode, Daniel Levine and Ross Snider discuss cyber security, the government infiltration that took down the Anonymous hacker collective, and the future of the media. And more stuff on walking dogs! This one’s got it all folks…

<-Check out our first episode!

Check out the next episode!->

Small Details: Mass Production As Literature

I worked in the used book business for a long time sorting books to be sold online both independently and as a contractor for a store. The store had more than 40,000 books in overstock, and I’d sit in a storage warehouse or the back of the store itself. Part of my job would be to research prices on a variety of sites. I kept a collection of interestingly damaged books. I had pictures of most of them at some point but lost them.

I remember mostly the bizarrely specific hesitations people would have over minor condition points while buying; the Mexican stand-off with the object wherein the urge to take it home is resisted. What was considered mint condition could vary wildly from book to book. The little condition blurbs put onto places like Amazon and Abebooks and varied wildly in tone and substance from seller to seller. Some sellers had clearly obsessive issues with certain defects. In their lists of defects they made the case for the refinement of their pickiness they hoped to find mirrored in the peculiar pickiness of the buyer. Detailed descriptions of books selling for a penny weren’t uncommon. It was a genealogy of individual supposedly identical copies of objects. Scanning down a page of these, Steinian repetitions occur. Read these out loud in order for the full effect:

“Harpercollins Trade Sales Dept. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Minimal damage to cover and binding. Pages show light use. Bookseller Inventory # G0061490199I3N00”

“Harper Perennial. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Light shelving wear with minimal damage to cover and bindings. Pages show minor use. Bookseller Inventory # G0061490199I3N00”

“Del Rey. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Book shows minor use. Cover and Binding have minimal wear and the pages have only minimal creases. Bookseller Inventory # G0345502078I3N00”

“Del Rey. Hardcover. Book Condition: Good. Ex-Library Book – will contain Library Markings. Only lightly used. Book has minimal wear to cover and binding. A few pages may have small creases and minimal underlining. Bookseller Inventory # G0345501748I3N10”

This is the novelized adaptation of tradio. The TV series plays on the local channel that loops the real estate listings. I’m not sure a film version has been made yet, but Mr. Show came close.


A SERIES OF IMAGES, WHEREIN THE IMAGES THEMSELVES MEET-CUTE

The line between an encyclopedia, a dictionary, a catalog page and traditional personals ads is a thin one, and in that line is the literary space wherein the internet creates itself. The strict rectangular geometry of the page creates the medium in which the space of “innovation” takes place.


WHAT IS THIS A LITERATURE OF? HOW DO WE WRITE IN IT?

Can’t say for sure, but I think I just did.


WERE THERE WARNING SIGNS?

They were coded to be indecipherable to their writers and the folks hired to deliver them. A couple have been retrieved but they’re fragmentary.

GK Chesterton in his introduction to his book William Blake: “Napoleon said that we English were a nation of shopkeepers; if he had pursued the problem a little further he might have discovered why we are a nation of poets. Our recent slackness in poetry and in everything else is due to the fact that we are no longer a nation of shopkeepers, but merely a nation of shop-owners.”

Robert Ashley wrote “In the beginning, there were rocks. And on those rocks with harder rock, we learned to make a million bruises. To spell out things like:We Were Here and Watch Your Water. They only moved it, the idea of bruises adding up to something, from rocks to skin. A tendency toward motion pictures.”

The present moment is a haystack made of needles. Problem now is: Where do you find a big enough haystack to hide them all in?

Liberation Theologies of a Consumer Society

…there used to be rather serious firewalls between the artist and the buying public – the gallery, the publisher. And technology demolishes that wall and basically says, self-promote or die. And that is a bad head for any sort of artist to be forced into.

Jonathan Franzen

If a number is so large that we have no way of measuring its magntiude, it might as well be infinity. If a number is non-zero, yet we cannot distinguish it from zero, it might as well be infinitesimal. How would we detect that a supposedly infinitesimal number is non-zero?

-Kalid’s Pages, Infinity Explanation

The boundaries between the serious and the frivolous have collapsed. We’re in the early post-revolutionary period now. As is standard in a post-revolutionary void, purges and infighting will occur repeatedly until the playing field stabilizes, only to break apart again over time.

Granted, the serious and the frivolous, high and low culture, were always categories defined by the reader and the strictures of power stacking the deck in order to make the most shining examples of the past falsely inflated to stand as the defining voices of their era. At the same time, this creates a textual void of power. As consumers of objects and texts, consumers with a voracity that easily dwarfs that of all other periods of human history, we cannot come to a shared text or a small enough number of shared texts so as to create social cohesion. The initial trauma to western civilization of discovering that there was no objective basis to claims of sovereignty over everything or even to the rightness of their accepted customs and beliefs or goals. The new worldliness, the signifier of sophistication, is the ability to consume and digest these texts more rapidly than the other people rapidly consuming and digesting these texts that produce themselves at a pace in which they can never be consumed.

Most US residents have not read The Bible. This is not a good or bad thing, just a sign times have changed. Before the time of the Protestant revolution, most Christians had not read the actual Bible. They were largely illiterate; there weren’t printing presses yet. The book stood as a thing imbued with mystical power for its rarity and social prestige; like the ultra-rich it had agents meant to propagate its public image and through their lens and careful custody it did weekly press conferences. Its power was, as rare book collectors know when they seek first editions, the power of the book itself as a mystical talisman, as an aura.

Still, a culture deterritorialized from their geographic space must find a shared text as a bedrock. Sometimes this is The Bible, sometimes this is The Simpsons. Sometimes its both. Texts separate themselves in the social eye into genres and traditions in order to confine them into serving as glue for a community hoping to gather together commentary on them.

The responsibility of the consumer in a market society is two-fold: 1) The consumer must use up the products produced, 2) The consumer must provide the person at the point of exchange with expanded value over his materials. The consumer frequently takes their duties quite solemnly; we don’t usually recognize this because part of their duty is to seem to have fun. It’s usually a very strained fun unless it can push itself into the realm of shared hysteria.

The perfect balance between their consuming things and their satisfying the theatrical trappings of their desired self is desired. Confidence often wanes. Xanadu moments are had wherein the consumer looks around and thinks “What’ll I ever do with all this stuff?” This confidence has to be reinvigorated.

The recent Ashley Madison hack/leak is another especially damaging blow that will shape the consumers’ confidence; the users paid for the privilege of complete erasure and were embarrassingly left exposed. All failed transactions create aftershocks in customers who need to be reassured that the project of their being wooed by products was not in fact a giant waste. When the product is trust itself, this takes on an almost allegorical dimension.


I wrote a short story about the above screenshot in the form of a press release for a non-existent podcast.

GSC GRADUATES START SELF-HELP PODCAST

Commercials got you down? Have you and TV lost that spark in the bedroom? Don’t worry, a new self-help podcast is here to the rescue and taking the net by storm.

Jenny Weaver and Tom Clapton met in college. “We were in the Korean Christian Fellowship together and we really bonded there because we were the only two people in the club who weren’t Korean.” Together they discussed a shared phobia that had made them hesitant to go to the supermarket.

“Well, we watch all these commercials for cleaning products and baked goods and snacks and microwave dinners and they look so amazing. But then you go to the store and buy them and they never live up to the commercials.”

Weaver in particular was disturbed. “There were trust issues. I just didn’t think I could handle being betrayed like that again.” Together they founded the Commercial Therapy Institute. The institute studies the strains and turbulences in peoples’ relationship with their televisions. The Institute also offers many treatment plans and workshops. “We do a lot of experimental talk therapies, like…we offer a workshop where everyone in the group watches TV together and we lead them in chanting ‘I can go out again. I am not afraid. It will be even better than the commercials.'”

The duo saw a lot of potential in this radical new field of therapy. They decided to start a podcast to promote their work. “On the show,” says Clapton, “We do some of the talk therapy techniques we use in our clinic, but we also give news in the beginning about what’s happening in the field. It’s a lot of fun.” Their podcast updates every Monday and can be downloaded on Itunes. -Terry Bull (Associate Editor, Generic State College Tribune)

The actual fully liberated consumer of course cannot exist. There can only be more and more sophisticated ways of digesting the data and increasingly more aggressive attempts to expand it. There is an economy of information; the larger the content market glut the less likely the possibility of humans corralling it all to their purposes. But it can be tried.

We live in the media environment now and desire control over it.

…if you give a mouse a cookie…

The Desiring Machine’s Panopticon

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You go cheep cheep cheep between bulleyes and bluster

Stiff as your poker face

Keener than mustard

From your own back yard to the land of exotica

From the truth society to neurotic erotica

-Elvis Costello, Pidgin English

The separation of the screen reproduces itself in numerous fashions; at its root it’s a reflection of the one-sided relations we’d like to have with strangers. In the United States, it’s the checkout counter, or at least starts as the checkout counter.

So, obvious question, what is the social relation recreated by the medium of the checkout counter?

Well, it’s a miniature Stanford Prison Experiment. Step on either side and become the all powerful consumer whose complaints can be heard and are taken seriously (or there will be consequences, the customer is always right after all) and the lowly employee, who must frequently apologize for the infraction of existing wrong. The customer, of course, is only given this power so as to deflect from view the actually powerful lords of capital, who give the illusion of power in order to deflect from the actuality and misuse of their own power.

The internet is the illusion of power, or rather the purposeful scaling back of power so as to make the person sufficiently frustrated with the failure of the people around them to eat each other. The roles must be reversed regularly so that you don’t get a clean binary through which to revolt. The lesson of driving a car, the windshield being the most powerful screen before the advent of the internet, is simultaneously to socialize the limitless desire for power in the form of speed and to abstract the person from their entire environs while simultaneously confining them within the limited bounds of what’s accessible by roads. Road rage is the neurotic condition of the reactionary consumer, driven mad by what amounts to very little actual power.

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The world in a box, you in an actual box.

And so the screen, like the car and to a larger extent the checkout counter, desires to reduce one’s relation to the world to a binary relation of desires met or not met. The self is positioned at a remove and can only read another person’s actions by the slightest reductive quality of the simplified wanted experience and its inevitable disappointment.

This creates the panopticon of the desiring machine, the means by which internet discourse, especially that of a political nature, works.


The Desiring Machine’s Panopticon

As the principle driving mechanism of capitalism is the perpetual desire that can’t be sated, the thing that needs to continually grow fatter or collapse. This is embedded mythologically in the striver archetype, in the “upward mobility” story, etc. The striver story is inverted in the purity narratives of victimhood of the left that are now being broken down and/or (andor?) expanded. They’re stretching out so to speak.

The social media network is the truly postmodern device of control; it works on a seeming contradiction; a panopticon that runs on the inability of the other people in the box to see each other. Anything that can be convincingly stated as being “coded language”, coming from any direction of power, can train the people in a given tunnel of communications to completely block out careful reading or discussion. We all become guard and prisoner simultaneously; otherwise how else do you filter the onslaught of information coming at you, all of it taking defensive stances of being of the utmost importance and confidently knowing. The troll’s mark is the proclamation of utmost certainty that betrays itself as being otherwise.

The traditional panopticon of course works on similar mechanisms-the all seeing eye of the jailer and its repressive potential is outsourced to the prisoner and distributed. The major difference in the panopticon of the Twitter or Facebook feed versus that of the more traditional surveillance state is its exclusive existence in the internet. The internet is an imperialistic attempt to gain hegemony over the visible world by the mediums of the written word and the still or moving picture.

This sudden aggressive shift in hegemony creates two primary assaults, barely perceived on the conscious level by the user, that can be framed in dialectics but not totally contained by them. As such I’m going to present them as two sided things of presence/lack divided by a slash that shouldn’t be taken as a strict separation: —The overwhelming influx of information of all sorts/the need to rapidly be able to sort this information into streams of legitimacy/coherence—and—The disinhibition in the face of a lack of standard social mechanisms of compromise (body language etc.) on the poster’s end/the assaultive fallout from this on the reader’s end.

But of course on the internet we’re all both poster and reader, producer and consumer, in varying proportions. We end up with a market glut of things to consume, and to flip Marx’s concept, what could be called a “crisis of overconsumption”. The problem becomes not the production of content-there’s more content on the internet now than could ever be consumed by a single person even if reincarnation was an option that included free refills. The valued commodity becomes more severely the production of feelings of desire for product. The early romantic thrill is gone from the act of consumption; the current craze for vinyl records, the first nostalgia craze driven by a demographic that can’t reasonably be presumed to have any dominant childhood desire for the product, .

Put otherwise:

Q: What do you get the man who has everything?

A: The ability to want any of it.

We drift toward the feeding frenzy of the Twitter trend as it ascends not because of wanting to discuss what it is but because we want to experience the excitement of the feeding frenzy itself. The viral as viagra. If we consume in order to assemble identity, the ultimate product in terms of built in obsolescence is the fleeting closed sufficiency of the identity statement, the A=A. A ghost to be chased, a thing that can only be held as tightly as can water.

Part of why Ayn Rand resonates so much with a portion of the population, beyond and directly within her reactionary politics, might be her steadfast assertion of the A=A in the face of its non-existence even within and surrounding her own work; it gives the comfort of basking in the inertia of a present that doesn’t exist.